In China’s history textbooks, one of the factors that have been attributed to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the subsequent “century of humiliation” was the feudal rulers’ policy of seclusion, which cut off China from the rest of the world and thus hampered its progress. Is Beijing repeating an age-old mistake by extensively blocking Google services? Many Chinese netizens think so.
“China is a one-of-a-kind digital civilization, with a big local area network.” Commented one netizen leonstein.
Partly thanks to the country’s formal education, in which the harms of Qing Dynasty’s “seal-off” policy and the benefits of Deng Xiaoping’s open-up policy in later 70s are emphasized repeatedly, the fear of being cut off from the rest of the world runs deep in China, especially when it comes to science, technology and development.
Many Chinese netizens don’t feel very strongly about Facebook or Twitter being blocked in China. After all, they have their own versions of equivalent Chinese services such as Renren, Weibo and Wechat, which many argue offer better user experiences.
But when Google services, including Google search, Google Books, Google Scholar and even Gmail, are blocked, Chinese netizens react very differently – they can do without social media, but they still need to “finish term papers,” “complete research,” “read journal articles” and “keep up with the latest development in science and technology.” All are not possible without access to Google.
“I’m disgusted every time when I hear government officials talk about technology innovation. With such a bad Internet environment, innovation is but a joke.” Commented one netizen 喜欢去做吧.
Fang Zhouzi, a US-educated Chinese scientific writer known for his campaign against pseudoscience and fraud in China, commented: “Academic corruption ruins half of China’s science and research community. Blocking Google ruins the other half. Whoever made the decision to block Google services either has no idea of the importance of Google in doing research, or doesn’t care about China’s development at all. They will be condemned by history.”
Many of them equal Beijing’s recent crackdown on Google with a digital seal-off policy, saying that the country is moving backwards. But few can make sense of it. Some said that Google was a victim of the war of words between Beijing and Washington over cybersecurity. Others speculated that the crackdown was retaliation on behalf of Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese tech companies whose expansion plans in the US have been blocked by Washington.
The bottom line is: A greater China LAN won’t lead China to “a renaissance of greatness.”